The in-state rivalry marks a pivotal moment in the Pac-12 North race
The erstwhile Civil War — Oregon and Oregon State administrators agreed to drop the moniker this summer — began in 1894. That's more than a decade before college football introduced the forward pass, and almost a quarter-century prior to the Spanish Flu pandemic.
One-hundred and two years have passed since then, and the first global pandemic since the Spanish Flu has shaken up virtually all facets of the world. Still, the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry continues on for its 124th installment, with the Ducks seeking their 12th win in the last 13 editions.
Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon is 3-0 and landed at No. 15 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings after surviving a scare from UCLA. Oregon State — after losing heartbreakers to Washington State and Washington — broke through against Cal.
No. 15 Oregon at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -14
When Oregon Has the Ball
After it pounded Stanford with a heavy dose of its multifaceted run game, then mixed it up effectively against Washington State, Oregon faced a UCLA defense committed to making Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough pass. The Bruins ground-game strategy worked — the Ducks rushed for just 88 yards as a team, and C.J. Verdell was limited to just 18 yards on 12 carries — but Shough came through with more weight put on his shoulders. He passed for 334 yards, averaged more than 11 yards per attempt, and produced three touchdowns without an interception.
Shough previously proved his ability as a ball carrier, and he has demonstrated an improved touch in the passing attack from week-to-week. Although a defense like Oregon State's is perhaps best served putting the game on Oregon's ability to throw, the Beavers have struggled stopping the run in their losses.
Washington State in particular utilized a blend of ball-carriers, including a dual-threat quarterback, against the Beavers. Look for Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to deploy a similar strategy, establishing Shough's ball-carrying in a blend with Verdell, Travis Dye, and perhaps wide receiver Jaylon Redd in a multidimensional approach.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren have both established themselves as savvy play-calling minds. And despite losing outstanding playmakers Jake Luton and Isaiah Hodgins, and with a blip in the first half against Washington State, the Beavers have again been solid on that side of the ball.
It starts with Jermar Jefferson, arguably the top running back in the Pac-12 (and maybe the nation). Following games of 120 and 133 yards against the Washington schools, Jefferson pounded Cal for 196 yards on just 18 carries, with his fifth touchdown run of the season. It's going to be all hands on deck for the Oregon defense in slowing down the outstanding Jefferson, and there's some good news for the Ducks on that front — a scary-looking Noah Sewell injury against UCLA was not as serious as it appeared.
The heat-seeking freshman Sewell will be critical in the effort to stop Jefferson. Oregon's best bet is to force Oregon State to be a passing team as much as possible. Tristan Gebbia's output through three games has been modest, far off the pace Luton set a year ago.
One certainty about Oregon State under Smith is that the Beavers will play hard for all 60 minutes. The opener against Washington State serves as further evidence that Oregon State won't fold if it falls behind early. Oregon is similar under Mario Cristobal in that the UO wins follow a typical trajectory that spans all 60: The Ducks overwhelm opponents, relying on their physicality to wear down teams and turn close margins into gaps that can't be bridged.
It started to play out against UCLA, as Oregon flipped a halftime deficit into a double-digit lead, but the Bruins struck for a late score that gave them hope. Oregon State has proven adept at hanging around and giving itself chances to win in a similar fashion. The Ducks probably won't win in a blowout, but they could do enough down the stretch to get a two-possession win.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Oregon State 28
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.